Strange Silence Alarms Salmon Netsmen

26th July 2011 in Salmon

Over the last thirty years there has been constant pressure from the powerful and well-connected salmon angling lobby for the closure of the North East coast commercial net fishery.

A continuous stream of spurious conservation arguments, masquerading for self-interest, have been deployed – and in the main been seen off by the NFFO’s Salmon Committee, although not without huge efforts and not without injury.

The cyclical requirement for the Government to approve the Net Limitation Order has usually provided the trigger for frenetic lobbying of ministers by the powerful and well-placed angling interests. This has usually been accompanied by hysterical coverage in the angling press.

It is all the more surprising therefore that the approach of the Net Limitation Order this time around has been accompanied by a deafening silence from the angling lobby.

The suspicion has to be that the anglers are working assiduously behind the scenes to persuade a minister, who they consider one of their own, to close the drift net fishery and to further restrict the T and J net/ beach fisheries.

The conservation arguments against the North East nets have always been weak because it is a small, well-managed, tightly controlled fishery with limited impact on salmon and sea trout stocks. It does however provide an important component in the livelihoods of the fishermen who still hold salmon licences.

The very strong runs of salmon this year and last year suggest that the stocks are doing well and that the increased catches of the netsmen are entirely proportionate.

The danger is that despite demonstrable strength of the salmon stocks and the sustainable characteristics of this small traditional fishery, the Net Limitation Order will be used by the Minister to sign away this fishery without due process. The NFFO will fight to ensure that this doesn’t happen. Netsmen have been side-lined by the Environment Agency over recent years. There is nowhere within the consultative arrangements for the Net Limitation Order that provides netsmen with a fair and proportionate voice. Netsmen have certainly been denied a voice at national level forums. As a result, there is no prospect that recommendations to ministers will be based on fair and balanced consideration of well-evidenced policy options. In fact all the signs are that self-interest and informal influence will carry the day, unless challenged.

Notwithstanding the shortcomings of the Environment Agency’s consultative arrangements there is little prospect of a more evidence-based approach from Defra, where there is a serious disconnect between fisheries, biodiversity and rural policy areas. Had they been coordinated Defra might have spotted the value of a small-scale, well-managed fishery, using passive gear and supporting rural communities.